September 28, 2021
News Opinion

MICHAEL WOLSEY: Why it’s time to give the kiss a miss

It’s an ill wind that blows nobody any good. And if this damned coronavirus puts a halt to the epidemic of public hugging and kissing that has beset the nation it will have achieved at least one positive thing.

Covid-19 has been in Ireland for less than a month, although it seems a lot longer. But when did the touchy-feeling plague arrive? A decade ago? Twenty years maybe?

My memory is not what it was, but I can definitely recall a time before its baleful presence stalked the land; a time when meeting and greeting was a simple, unchallenging business.

If, back in those halcyon days, I met a woman I knew well, I might kiss her decorously on one cheek. If introduced to a stranger I would shake her hand.

Nowadays I have options to consider. Do I (a) shake her hand; (b) kiss her on one cheek; (c) kiss her on both cheeks; (d) snog her vigorously, wink, and hope I get lucky.

Option (a) may be seen as too formal, (b) as too forward and (c) as too French. Option (d) may get me named on the #MeToo web page.

Worse still, the problem is not confined to women. Increasingly I am meeting men who, when I extend my arm for a handshake, grab it and pull me into some sort of rugby-chum embrace, as dangerous as it is embarrassing. Thankfully, no male has tried to kiss my cheek. But I have seen it done to others and it is not a pretty sight.

It never used to be an issue. Not here.  In Madrid, possibly.  In Rome, probably.  In Paris, undoubtedly. But in this country, strangers of either gender shook hands on meeting and again on parting.

With a man you knew well, there was no need for any physical gesture at all. ‘Howya’ and ‘Seeya’ served perfectly. In moments of high emotion the latter might be extended to ‘Seeya soon’.

Professional soccer players were permitted to kiss a team-mate who had scored a wonderful goal but this was such a rare event in Ireland that it hardly needed consideration.

Covid-19 has brought a ban on pre-match hand-shaking for players in England’s Premier League but after the game they are still indulging in hearty hugs and back-slapping. Someone should explain to them that winning a match does not confer immunity – although the glare of a defeated manager, Jose Mourinho in particular, might well be enough to kill off a virus.

It would be a bonus if Covid-19 also put a permanent end to that other bit of unwarranted familiarity, the Sign of Peace at Mass.

I am not a Mass-goer so it doesn’t bother me often, but on the rare occasions I am in a church, for a wedding, maybe, or a First Communion, this handshake thing always makes me feel uncomfortable – not because of the contact, but because it is so pointless.

Invariably, I have arrived with members of my family, or close friends, and I know everyone who is seated near to me. There is something quite ridiculous about shaking hands with these people whom I meet every day of the week, in whose company I may have left the house an hour earlier.

Over the years I have mentioned this to believers who range, in their devotion, from daily communicants to people who were surprised to learn that the Mass was no longer being said in Latin. They have all, without exception, shared my view of the Sign of Peace.

Covid-19 has brought a halt to this silly practice and it would be nice to think it might eventually vanish along with the virus. I won’t hold my breath, though … well, only if I’m about to cough.

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